When Alonzo Mourning (COL ’92) was a Hoya, John Thompson Jr. did not like the company his star center was keeping. According to popular legend, when Thompson found out that Mourning was running around with infamous D.C. drug lord Rayful Edmond III, he asked to see the notorious gangster in his office. When Edmond sashayed through his door, Thompson laid into the hoodlum, and vowed to make him suffer should he ever find the need to hang around a Hoya basketball player again. Rayful retreated out of cDonough, tail between his legs, and was never heard from on the Hilltop again.

Whether he was up against a dodgy drug lord, the NCAA bureaucracy or Lou Carnesecca, Thompson never was one to back down. From the second he stepped through Healy Gates at 37th and O in 1972, Thompson commanded respect, and his team’s performance ensured he got it.

Were it not for Thompson, Georgetown would likely still be a tiny Jesuit school with no street cred. Instead, the image of Jack the Bulldog is now proudly displayed on baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts from Lauinger library to the tough streets of Compton. A native of the District, Thompson brought hoops talent to Georgetown from every nook and cranny of the metropolitan area, mining inner-city playgrounds for talent long ignored by past Hoya headmen.

Throughout the 1970s, Thompson stood his ground in the face of racism and criticism from pundits who questioned his harsh coaching style. But the boy who overcame near-blindness to earn an economics degree from Providence soldiered on, eventually landing prized recruit Patrick Ewing (CAS ’85) and ushering Georgetown basketball into its golden age, which culminated with the 1984 NCAA crown. Throughout the ’80s, Thompson was known as one of college basketball’s most authoritative and entertaining figures.

When Carnesecca, then coach of St. John’s, insisted on wearing his obnoxiously ugly good-luck sweater for his showdown with Georgetown in 1985, Thompson found a replica to fit his 6-foot-10 frame and vanquished the top-ranked Redmen in an upset now known simply as “the sweater game.”

Against the often harsh voices of his critics, Thompson stood up for what he believed in. In 1989, Thompson protested the NCAA’s Proposition 42, which denied financial support to athletes who did not achieve high enough test scores on standardized tests. The motion infuriated Thompson, who proclaimed it unfair to athletes who attended sub-par high schools. In response to the Thompson-led uproar, the NCAA overturned Prop. 42 in 1990.

With his signature white towel draped over one shoulder, Thompson motivated his players by reminding them of the giant chip resting on their own. The architect of “Hoya Paranoia” convinced his players that the rest of the basketball world held them in contempt, and the result was a belligerent on-court swagger best demonstrated in players like Mourning, Michael Graham and Allen Iverson.

The towering Thompson’s greatest attribute as a coach was his genuine concern for his players as human beings. Although his players acted tenacious and cocksure on the court, Thompson insisted that they develop into well-rounded and respectful men on campus.

Thompson kept a vigilant watch on his boys, making sure Dikembe utombo (FLL ’91) learned all his vowels and Sleepy Floyd stayed awake in class. Of the Hoyas who stayed on the Hilltop four years, 97 percent left holding a diploma. Thompson was the saving grace for many troubled inner-city stars the rest of the world had all but given up on.

The influence of Thompson’s tough love has been exhibited once again on the shores of the Potomac, as his son John Thompson III has brought the no-nonsense coaching style back into vogue. Despite the younger Thompson’s success during his first three years as coach of the Hoyas, “Big” John never lets his boy get off easy, often lurking in the back of postgame press conferences to pose the one tough question reporters are too afraid to ask.

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